A forthcoming ban on cold-callers who try to scam people out of their pension savings will include emails and texts, the government has announced.
Nearly 3,000 savers have been conned out of an average of £15,000 each since 2014, after fraudsters persuaded them to cash in their pensions.
Certain types of cold calls, including those involving mortgages, are already banned.
Now the law will be changed to include callers trying to sell pensions.
Companies that do not have prior permission to contact consumers, or do not have an existing client relationship with them, will face fines of up to £500,000.
But whereas the government originally proposed excluding texts and emails, it has now decided to include them within the new law.
“The fact emails and text messages will also be covered by the ban means savers can be absolutely certain that if someone they don’t know contacts them out of the blue about their pension, they simply should not engage with them,” said Tom Selby, an analyst with AJ Bell.
“That means don’t email, don’t text back and hang up the phone.”
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A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said the legislation would be tabled “when parliamentary time allows”, raising the possibility that it could be many months before the rules come in.
The consumer organisation Which? said that the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), would need to be strict about enforcement.
“Pension scams are costing retirees millions, so this action must lead to a crackdown on criminals stealing people’s hard-earned savings,” said Gareth Shaw, Which? money expert.
Some fraudsters have taken advantage of the new pension freedoms, which were introduced in April 2015.
Since then, anyone over the age of 55 has been allowed to withdraw money from their pension, with the ability to spend it, or invest it elsewhere.
In one case investigated by the BBC, thousands of people were persuaded to buy so-called storage pods with their pension savings.
However, most never received the returns they were promised.
The Fair Telecoms campaign group said the new rules did not go far enough and the government should extend this law into a total ban on unsolicited direct marketing phone calls.
“At present, the respective regulators choose to grant the businesses they regulate the freedom to cause enormous annoyance and damage to our trust in use of the telephone,” said the campaign’s David Hickson.
Mr Hickson wants energy and telecoms firms, and payday loan companies included in the ban.
Fraudsters ‘exploit loopholes’
The government will also tighten the rules to make it harder for consumers to transfer money to unregulated pension schemes, such as those investing in forest schemes or parking spaces.
Under proposals to be added to the Finance Bill later this year, trustees will have to ensure that any receiving scheme is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, is an authorised master trust, or has an active employment link with the individual.
The new measures have been welcomed by the Pensions Regulator, and by the former pensions minister, Ros Altmann.
“The sooner the government acts, the sooner we can improve protection for people’s pensions.
“We will never stop such fraudsters completely, but these measures will certainly protect the public better – about time too,” she said.
However, experts warned that fraudsters would try to find new ways of working.
“It’s important to note that this will not stop cold-calling or pension scams,” said Tom Selby.
“Fraudsters will seek to exploit any loopholes in the rules, and many of the outfits involved will simply move their call centres abroad to avoid the ban.”
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